Georgia and Alabama will be playing for the 67th time Saturday in Athens but for only the 16th time since 1965, and it’s only fitting that the two programs will be meeting in the 50th anniversary of the game that will be forever known for the flea-flicker.
That encounter, a half-century ago on Sept. 18, was the season opener for both SEC teams.
Macon attorney Kirby Moore, playing in his first varsity game for the Bulldogs, was the trigger man on the flea-flicker as the Georgia quarterback. The sophomore from Dothan, Alabama, actually was the Bulldogs’ backup signal-caller for starter Preston Ridlehuber, who left the contest in third quarter with a pulled leg muscle. If you are a long-standing Georgia fan, you know that Moore connected with receiver Pat Hodgson, who lateraled to halfback Bob Taylor, who took the football into the end zone, completing a 73-yard touchdown play.
That touchdown pulled Georgia to within 17-16, and according to Moore, there was no doubt that they would go for two, which they did, with him hitting Hodgson for the conversion and an 18-17 lead. But the game was far from over. Alabama drove to Georgia’s 25-yard line, where place-kicker David Ray was wide left on a 42-yard field goal attempt with just 10 seconds remaining, which would have given the Crimson Tide the victory.
The Alabama game was not the only time Georgia used some tricks that season. Against Clemson, Ridlehuber handed the football off to Taylor, who pitched it back to Ridlehuber, who then hit Hodgson for a 34-yard touchdown pass in a 23-9 win.
Bulldogs hall of fame head coach Vince Dooley gave credit to rival Georgia Tech, for the flea-flicker. He said the Yellow Jackets tried it against Auburn when he was a Tigers assistant, but it didn’t work. Moore said that Georgia first practiced the flea-flicker at the end of two-a-days in August basically as a fun activity, not thinking it would ever be used in a game. He said the first time they ran it, he overthrew Hodgson, the second time Hodgson dropped the ball and the third time Taylor fumbled it.
I am not sure the play would have stood if today’s rules regarding instant replay had been in effect back in 1965. If you watch film of the play, which I recently did, there would be a strong argument, as there was then, that Hodgson’s knee was on the ground when he pitched off to Taylor. Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant did not make an issue of the no call, even after reviewing film, saying, “You don’t win games at Monday night at the movies. You win games on Saturday afternoon.”
There is no question that Bryant was upset with the loss, and his team reportedly practiced three times Sunday following the setback. That was the only loss of the season for Alabama as it went on to win its second consecutive national championship, capping it with a 39-28 victory over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. The Cornhuskers were ranked third in the nation going into the game and were 17-point favorites over the Tide. Georgia won its first four, including a victory at Michigan that season but lost four of its final six to finish at 6-4.
The 1965 Alabama-Georgia game was nationally televised (the first from Sanford Stadium) on NBC, and Moore was named national back of the week for his performance in the win. Moore was a late recruit for football at Alabama because indications were that he was committed to playing baseball. He had a half dozen baseball scholarship offers, including ones from powerhouses Florida State and LSU. He was recruited to Georgia by baseball head coach Jim Whatley and was expected to play both football and baseball at Georgia, but he never registered one at-bat for the Bulldogs. Spring football practice always occurred during baseball season, and Moore knew that to keep his job as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback he needed to be practicing with the football team.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org